In the Saddle: Between a rock and the soft spot
There have been only three times when I thought I might be in trouble in the backcountry.
I led my dog and another hiker into a precarious spot on a hike between Placita and Redstone quite a few years ago. I nearly got us rimmed out along a creek way off the intended trail. Reasoning prevailed, and we avoided taking big risks to get out of a sticky situation.
Two brothers-in-law and I once got a bit too rambunctious with a rental Chevy Equinox in Death Valley and blew a transmission line on an obscure backcountry road. It took about 20 hours to get out of that pickle.
The third and most recent hair-raiser was a hike through The Needles of Canyonlands during a violent thunderstorm. I held my breath for every bright flash of lightning and sharp crack of thunder.
The latest hard spot, not quite as harrowing as the previous three, came during a bicycle ride on Basalt Mountain. I was riding early and alone when I approached the first rock-garden section on what’s known as “The Big Loop.” There’s a slight climb over some fairly large rocks. I clear them about 50 percent of the time. I failed on the first attempt Sunday, so I wheeled my big downhill for another go at it. My front tire got lodged against a rock on the second try, stopping my momentum. I tried but failed to extract my foot from the clipless pedal and fell hard into the basalt rocks.
I got up, shook myself off, swore a couple of times, assessed the blood oozing from my left knee and shin and picked up my bike. Within a minute, I developed a nice-sized bump on my left knee. In another minute, it swelled to a grotesquely large size — to the point where my knee wouldn’t bend.
I took out the water bladder in my Camelbak and used it to soothe my angry knee. If I couldn’t pedal, I figured it would be best backtracking one mile or so on the singletrack trail to the Basalt Mountain logging road for an easy coast to the bottom.
Lo and behold, once I started moving, the blood drained from my knee, and the flexibility improved. I decided I couldn’t wimp out, so I reversed course and completed the ride.
Truth be known, I probably rode the technical part of the trail the best ever for me. I knew the consequences would be painful if I fell again, so I picked my lines carefully and maneuvered through the rocks adroitly — completing trail 1909, the Ditch Trail, a little singletrack below the parking lot, then the long slog home on gravel and paved roads through Missouri Heights to the valley floor.
My knee is calming down, but I’ve got pictures to prove that it looked like a gnarled aspen-tree trunk.
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.